Sorry, Porn Culture Isn't to Blame for Terry Richardson

"Terry Richardson Photographs Deepak Chopra, Doesn't Jizz In His Eye."

As this Jezebel headline shows, celebrities' favorite fashion photographer has become synonymous with perviness. And for good reason: For over 13 years, Terry Richardson's models have brought allegations of sexual assault and harassment against him, with art student Charlotte Waters most recently accusing him of ejaculating into her eye at a photo shoot.



It's horrifying that after all these years of allegations, celebrities like Jared Leto and Miley Cyrus still work with him, and magazines like GQ and Harper's Bazaar continue to contract him. But in the collective soul-searching that resulted in the Waters aftermath, many people started to point fingers at pornography, claiming that porn was somehow to blame for the fiasco. 

This perspective is perhaps best summed up by Meghan Murphy's Feminist Current article earlier this month, which excoriated the fashion industry for continuing to condone this behavior. Richardson needs to be held accountable, and the models' allegations should not be ignored. 

What's more problematic about Murphy's article, however, is how she equates Richardson's work with "porn culture."

"This is porn culture," she writes. "You hear me? What Richardson is doing is mainstreaming porn. You cannot separate his behaviour from his work. ... This is what we learn is sexy — what Richardson is doing is a porn fantasy. He is making porn and he is doing porn to women."

But is porn culture the cause of Richardson's alleged sexual assaults on models? Murphy's argument assumes porn is abusive, flagrantly exploitative and consistently violates actors' boundaries behind the scenes. But that is not the case. PolicyMic sat down with three members of the adult industry to talk about porn, consent and exploitation — the issues central to the Richardson scandal. 

Before she came into the adult industry, Nica Noelle was a paralegal. Now she is a porn actress and director, and has co-founded several adult film studios, including Girl Candy Films for woman-on-woman porn, Rock Candy Films for man-on-man porn and TransRomantic Films for trans performers.

In an email with PolicyMic, Noelle outlined how she maintained safe, consensual working conditions for her performers. She does not allow her crew to stare, hit on or ask the talent on dates, though she added that some crew members across the porn industry "take advantage of their position." She also welcomes feedback from her talent concerning co-stars who are uncomfortable.

"Are all porn models harassed or abused? Absolutely not! But the adult industry is not regulated as it should be," she wrote. 

Richardson's models appear to have lacked informed consent — but that is not an inherent part of working as an adult actor or actress. Many porn actors enter a scene knowing what type of sex they will perform, and with whom they will be performing the sex scene.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Buck Angel is a transman who acts and directs porn and is considered a pioneer of transmale adult films. He works not only too provide sexual enjoyment to the viewer, but to also educate the public about transmen's sexuality.

Like Noelle, Angel doesn't deny porn's problems. "Of course there are shitty production companies in porn. I'd be lying if I didn't say that. Of course there's ugly stuff that happens," he told PolicyMic. "But that's why there's a movement that's trying to change that, making sex-positive amazing things for people to enjoy."

"Once I'm comfortable that someone's coming onto the set with their head straight, my sets are just me and them. It's very comfortable," Angel said. "It's about you. It's not about me. What do you want to do? What don't you want to do? Who do you want to be with? What toys do you want to use?"

That unfortunately didn't seem to be the case between Terry Richardson and many of his models. 


Clayra Beau is an adult performer who models and acts in porn as well as other genres, including superhero parody and B-horror. While she does not consider herself a "star," Beau is intimately acquainted with the explicit modeling scene.

"I can think of two photographers in my own experience who have pulled shenanigans," Beau told PolicyMic in an email. "One in Milwaukee exceeded the pre-set expectations of a shoot and wanted me to 'open up' more. He got touchy-feely, pulled out some sex toys, and I was out the door. I've heard plenty of stories just like it, and I was lucky enough that someone reminded me when I started modeling that I ALWAYS had the power to say NO and demand respect." 

Beau's words, "I was lucky enough," should serve as a reminder that not all models are lucky enough to go onto a set prepared in case the photographer tries to push them beyond what they signed up to do.

Does everyone in porn stick to standards of informed consent? Unfortunately, no — but the problem isn't porn. The problem is that people don't stick to those standards. What we must do now is hold Terry Richardson — and any other photographer or director accused of crossing these lines — accountable. But we must also admit that those lines exist in professional environments, yes, including the professional adult fim environment.

Listen to Charlotte Waters. Listen to Jamie Peck. Coercion and sexual assault should never be the price of any job. 

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Andrea Garcia-Vargas

Andrea is a PolicyMic Identities columnist and an Upworthy curator. Their writing has been published in VICE, Chicago Tribune, Nerve.com, and Refinery29. Find them on Twitter @andreagarvar.

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